The Internet As The New Religion

The New Inquiry on the Internet as a god to be worshipped:

The relentless enthusiasm that cyber-utopians have for the potential of new technologies to transform the world often borders on religious fervor. In the case of Wired’s founding editor Kevin Kelly, it is literally true. After experiencing a religious awakening at the age of 27, Kelly now professes a unique form of Christianity that sees profound spiritual implications in technological progress. He believes that as our networks become more interconnected and our software becomes more intelligent, a vast planetary consciousness will emerge, knitting together our infrastructure into a sublime artificial mind that will inspire religious devotion.

Although this sounds far-fetched, current discourse about the Internet confirms the general prediction. We may not discuss the Internet as a planetary consciousness from on high, but we increasingly reify it as if it were a singular, invisible agency like God. This discourse heralds not the return to explicit belief that Kelly hoped for; instead, belief in Web divinity appears more subtly, slipping into everyday language in enthusiastic, worshipful comments like “This is why I love the Internet!”

The logic at work here is an obvious extension of the longstanding slogan of Internet activists, “Information wants to be free,” which assigns agency to information in a way that a more humanistic phrasing, like “Information ought to be free,” would not. The title of Kelly’s most recent book, What Technology Wants, makes this same move. But it’s less clear why secular and often proudly atheistic hackers would choose to view information as capable of wanting things beyond what people want from it.

Just as we might understand what religious people aspire to by studying what traits they attribute to their deity, we can understand Web worshippers by what they attribute to the Internet. These include such things as boundless creativity, innovation, unlimited potential for novelty, entrepreneurism, multifaceted, a shape-shifting network that rejects stable identities and embraces change. Following Ludwig Feuerbach’s hypothesis that man created God in his own image, one might say that the deified Internet embodies all the attributes of the perfect neoliberal subject that economic conditions require, offering a point of identification for the precarious worker and dignifying their situation.

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  • mannyfurious

    I don’t know specifically about the internet, but technology has been the religion of choice for many since the industrial evolution. There’s this idea that technology can deliver us from suffering and provide a heaven on earth. But, like doomsday predictions, that day of impending paradise continues to get pushed back. Now we await google glasses and the XBox 720 and the general dates have been set. But those dates will come and pass and life in this country will continue to be not much different. Politics will be the same as usual. Schools will still be underfunded. Unions will continue to get busted. Health Care will still be a joke. The police state will become more pronounced. People will continue to blame immigrants for the problems of this country. Banks will continue to loot and rob the people. The 1-percent will own even more of the money. The democratic party will still be a party of dickless imbeciles. The republican party will become more popular, yet. There won’t be a legit third-party threat and even if by some miracle this does come to pass, that party will just as soon be hijacked by the corporate elites. Corporations will still be “people.” Scalia and Clarence Thomas will still be on the supreme court. Young minority teenagers will continue to be shot for wearing hoodies in a gated community. Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. 

    But hey, by then the new Ipad should be out, so, hey, it’s all good, right?

    • William

      OMG I just can’t wait for the new iPad! 

    • http://twitter.com/LxRxG Louie Garcia

      pessimistic much? fear is you’re only god.

      • mannyfurious

        And grammar is but one of your many friends. Don’t forget that.

        I may be pessimistic, but so were Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell and Hunter Thompson… so that puts me in good company. And I don’t actually fear much. It’s like what Chief Seattle said when asked how he felt about the genocide of his people. He shrugged and said: (And I paraphrase) “Some day the white man too will disappear.” This is just the way of the world. A lot of good things happen, but a lot of bad things happen. You either love it or leave it. But I got sick of worshiping at the altar of technology a long time ago.

    • PossiblyMaybeProbablyNot

      “There’s this idea that technology can deliver us from suffering and provide a heaven on earth” It all comes down to priorities. We could guarantee that every individual on this planet has no less than a roof over their head, healthy food on the table, and clean drinking water. We already possess the technology to make this a reality. So why haven’t we done so? Priorities. 

      Now there is also a legitimate argument to be made about sustainability and that is why I believe that we (as a race) will need to begin enforcing some sort of one-child-only policy or parental licensing. Once the population is under control, you could then begin to guarantee that everyone has equal access to things like education and healthcare, as well as non-essential technologies like laptops and iPods. 

      Once everyone is connected to each other technologically, then yes, I do think that we as a race would be a hell of a lot closer to this heaven-like state to which you refer. It will never be perfect. There will be always be human drama and suffering of some sort or another. But it does not have to be so dire. We could begin to make these changes immediately but it would require a complete restructuring of the current system. 

      It all comes down to money and power…they are the two most influential and corrupting priorities. They provide breeding grounds for greed and selfishness which leads to things like war and poverty and disease. There is another legitimate use of technology: curing diseases, instead of treating them. Look at all of the money these pharmaceutical companies are making. They are not going to let that go without a fight. But even if we were to cure every known disease, you come back to the problem of population and sustainability. 

      Are we too late? What will it take at this point? I fear for my young nieces and the world which they are inheriting from us. But I also have hope that they might live to see a day which is significantly more balanced, equal, and fair…for everyone, everywhere. 

      • mannyfurious

        “Once everyone is connected to each other technologically, then yes, I do think that we as a race would be a hell of a lot closer to this heaven-like state to which you refer.”
        And where’s your evidence? We are much more connected than we were 10 years ago. Are we better off now than 10 years ago? I don’t think so. We’re definitely more technologically connected now than 20 years ago. Are we better off now? I don’t think so. We’re more connected than we were 30 years ago. Are we better off now? I would argue not. 

        The point here is that the evidence, from my perspective, shows that being more technologically connected doesn’t actually improve the our quality of life besides giving us new toys to play with. And so if the evidence isn’t suggesting what you’re saying, you must be relying on faith. And faith is a hallmark of a religious way of thinking. Ergo, the religion of technology. 

        If Marx were alive today, he’d just as well say that technology is the opiate of the masses. Give us a few new toys and we’ll continue to think everything is hunky-dorey and fine. 

  • Alis

    To be followed by: Calling Everything the “New Religion” as The New Religion.

  • Redacted

    The Emperor is waiting.

    • Jin The Ninja

      Yellow or Jade?

      • Redacted

        Black. He is the Emperor who will put aside doubts by proving himself. many will die.

        The Meritocracy will be restored, and Mankind will know once again to venerate Warriors.

  • GoodGrief

    “He believes that as our networks become more interconnected and our software becomes more intelligent, a vast planetary consciousness will emerge, knitting together our infrastructure into a sublime artificial mind that will inspire religious devotion” God-fucking-dammit…I had an idea for a short story that was very similar to this. There are no new ideas, indeed :-( 

  • Jman

    The global (or more likely universal) mind has always been there but with technology we may just be able to tap into it. All is one.

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